The river: Think of the Rhine as a sampler package for Western Europe. It begins in Switzerland and flows through France and Germany on its way to the Netherlands, where it meets the North Sea. Along its route, it meanders past vibrant capitals, medieval castles and fairytale villages.
The sights: Cruisers can sail the whole river, focus on one section, or combine the Rhine with another river. There are cruises themed around castles, Christmas markets and city culture.
Stops along the way bring a delightful mix of experiences, such as sipping wine in a 700-year-old German castle and touring a UNESCO World Heritage cathedral in the German city of Speyer. (It’s also where you can taste chocolate cake made with vanilla-infused vinegar—yes, vinegar! Listen to the Well-Traveled with AAA podcast to hear more.)
Other enchanting ports include Strasbourg, France, where you can walk or bike along cobbled lanes, and Cologne, Germany, where you can gaze at the medieval gates in the city’s Old Town. You can also see where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet at the German Corner in Koblenz, or time your cruise to witness tulips blooming in Amsterdam.
The river: Paris means love, and the Seine means Paris. The second-longest river in France, the Seine flows 483 miles from Paris through France’s Normandy region before emptying into the English Channel.
The sights: Most river cruise itineraries include several days exploring Normandy—retracing World War II history at the site of the Allies’ D-Day invasion, paying respects to Joan of Arc in Rouen and allowing time for art appreciation. Monet’s former home in Giverny is famous for its flowers and lily ponds, while Auvers-sur-Oise was memorialized by Van Gogh. (Bonus for animal lovers: Listen to the Well-Traveled with AAA podcast to find out why cows from France’s Normandy region are the cutest in the world.)
The Paris portion of the cruise can last a few days or half the total itinerary, with onboard accommodations. Ship excursions streamline touring the city’s iconic spots, from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre Museum. Note: Being with a ship excursion group doesn’t guarantee VIP access or quicker wait times, so many cruisers opt out of group sightseeing and arrange their own, or simply wander Paris, enjoying the moment.
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The river: A tributary of the Rhine, the Moselle flows nearly 340 miles through France, Luxembourg and Germany.
The sights: This slower and smaller river provides an intimate view of German wine country. Ships sail through deep, dramatic valleys, flanked by hillside vineyards. You’ll see many wine estates and villages, but no major cities. The busiest part is where the river meets the Rhine in the north. Popular for day cruising, land-based driving and cycling tourism, this region is perhaps more famous with German holidaymakers than international visitors. For longer sailings serving international cruisers, the Moselle is often combined with other rivers.
Along the twists and turns between Trier and Koblenz in Germany, winemakers have been perfecting their techniques for two millennia. Try the Riesling: In this region, it goes perfectly with the farm- and field-fresh cuisine. Locals like to say that they were farm-to-table before the term existed.
The river: Flowing more than 550 miles across northern Spain and into Portugal, the Douro passes between terraced hillsides lush with grapevines. The Douro Valley is one of the world’s oldest demarcated wine regions, in existence since 1756.
The sights: A journey down the Douro starts energetically. First, you’ll bus from Lisbon to the port town of Porto in time for sunset. Lisbon-to-Porto drive itineraries often include a stop at the city of Coimbra, one of J.K. Rowling’s inspirations for Hogwarts, which is a marked contrast to Porto with its street musicians and carnival booths.
After boarding the ship in Porto, you’ll venture into Portuguese wine country, where cruisers drink vinho verde and doze in the sun. The port towns of Pinhao and Regua are charmingly small, and cruises usually offer an excursion to a modest quinta (country estate).
When ships can go no farther, cruisers travel by bus to the ruins of Portugal’s Castelo Rodrigo and cross into Spain for tapas and a flamenco performance.
The river: Its picturesque shores have inspired poets and composers, and Napoleon called it “the queen of Europe’s rivers.” The Danube originates in Germany and passes through 10 countries before emptying into the Black Sea.
The sights: Today, river cruising provides a captivating way to experience the cultural pleasures along the Danube’s banks. Many cruises begin or end at Passau, Germany, which sits at the convergence of three rivers: the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz.
As the ship continues into Austria, you’ll have the chance to explore Salzburg, where Mozart was born, and Vienna, home of the opulent Hofburg palace. You can ride a bicycle through the ultrascenic Wachau Valley, where a paved trail leads past castles, abbeys and vineyards. (Listen to the Well-Traveled with AAA podcast to hear more about exploring the Wachau Valley.) And, in Hungary, you can wonder at Budapest’s ornate Parliament building, which dominates the view from the river.
If you have a few days, tack on an excursion to Prague. The Czech Republic capital sits about 140 miles north of the Danube from Passau, but it’s a favorite destination for river cruisers, who get there via motor coach.
As the world’s only authentic boutique cruise line, Uniworld infuses each of its state-of-the-art ships with the intimate feel of a boutique hotel. While sailing throughout Europe, Russia, Egypt and Asia, Uniworld guests are surrounded by inviting lounges, cozy libraries, panoramic restaurants, exquisite antiques and original art. Guests are also pampered by Uniworld’s impeccable service—the cruise line boasts one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the industry.
Viking’s destination-focused itineraries appeal to experienced travelers with a passion for geography, culture and history. For those looking to really immerse themselves in the destinations, the Viking Culture Curriculum offers music and art performances, cooking demonstrations, informative port talks and guest lecturers. Viking Longships provide a bit of modern luxury, as well, with elegant Scandinavian design and eco-friendly features such as solar panels and onboard herb gardens.
Family-owned and -operated, AmaWaterways has made a name for itself as an innovator in the river cruise industry. It was the first river cruise line to launch ships with twin-balcony staterooms—featuring both French and full outside balconies for uninterrupted views. AmaWaterways also introduced river cruising’s first connecting staterooms, designed to fit the needs of multigenerational families, and was the first to include bicycles on board its European fleet.
A world-leader in upscale guided travel, Tauck is dedicated to helping its guests “Travel
Beyond Ordinary.” Family-owned and operated since 1925, Tauck is the only three-time winner of
both Travel + Leisure magazine’s annual “World’s Best Tour Operators & Safari Outfitter” award and
its “World’s Best River Cruise Line” honor.
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